Lydia’s Radical Care Annotated Bibliography

The antitheses of radical care

Achille Mbembe; Necropolitics. Public Culture 1 January 2003; 15 (1): 11–40.

In this essay, Mbembe argues that the ultimate manifestation of authority is expressed as having the power to decide if someone (or something) will live or die and having the capacity to do something to that effect. Mbembe’s theory draws heavily on Foucaut’s concept of biopower, which he defines as “that domain of life over which power has taken control” (p.12). In this analysis, Mbembe directs his attention to expressions of sovereignty which are preoccupied with the regulation of human materiality and the elimination of bodies, individually as people and collectively as peoples. Through the lens of biopower, the function of racism is to enable a state to administer the distribution of violence and death throughout its population (and that of the world at large). Mbembe applies his analysis to the Holocaust, colonialism, slavery in the United States, and “wars of the globalization era.” He concludes that the concept of biopower is insufficient to describe and explain these phenomena, offering the term necropolitics instead. One could say that Mbembe’s focal point is the antipode of radical care. 

Bobby Banerjee, S. (2008). Necrocapitalism. Organization Studies, 29(12), 1541-1563.

Building from the work of Mbembe (2003, included in this bibliography), Banerjee advances the concept of necrocapitalism, “contemporary forms of organizational accumulation that involve dispossession and the subjugation of life to the power of death” (abstract). Banerjee focuses on contemporary imperialism, a phenomenon he places as an outgrowth of capitalism (ideologically) and colonialism (structurally). In his analysis, he examines how three different kinds of power operate to sustain and reproduce imperialism. Institutional power is represented by organizations like the IMF, WTO, and the World Bank. Economic power takes the shape of nation states and corporations. Discursive power operates in narratives of progress, backwardsness, and economic development which choke out whatever local stories people might have to tell about international development agendas and their own goals. These narratives support the violent, warful usurping of resources in allegedly underdeveloped nations. In this framework, “the fundamental feature of necrocapitalism is accumulation by dispossession and the creation of death worlds in colonial contexts.” More simply put, necrocapitalist systems generate wealth by creating and exploiting disposable people. Banerjee suggests that studying the emergence of new resistance movements may provide insight for how political power might be exerted differently in the future, ideally in a way that tends to life instead of generating so much death. In this paper, Banerjee provides a label for the phenomenon that charges us most urgently with a mission grounded in an ethos of radical care.

Anarchist conceptions of care

Connolly, C. A. (2010). “I am a trained nurse”: The Nursing Identity of Anarchist and Radical Emma Goldman. Nursing History Review, 18(1), 84-99.

In this excavation of writings about Emma Goldman (iconic figure of revolutionary, anarcho-feminist politics), Cynthia Anne Connolly, PhD, RN, calls attention to Goldman’s background as a nurse. Connolly’s analysis draws upon works written about Goldman but also includes Goldman’s autobiography where she discusses the significance of her nursing care-work in her utopian political visions. Goldman’s entry into the nursing profession was an unexpected consequence of her incarceration. As a result of this development, she had both lived experience of and eyewitness exposure to social injustice as manifested through healthcare inequality. The centrality of nursing and equity through public health in Emma Goldman’s political thought process represents a contribution to radical care discourse by providing another metaphor for care from which to draw inspiration. Nursing care-work and public health as a model for radical care might help expand conceptions of care beyond the interpersonal sphere so that it might be understood more fully as an act of tending to community health and flourishing.

Heckert, J. (2010). Listening, caring, becoming: anarchism as an ethics of direct relationships. In Anarchism and moral philosophy (pp. 186-207). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

In this book chapter, Jamie Heckert advances an understanding of anarchism as “an ethics of relationships”, and joins a polyvocal effort to articulate what the word “anarchism” actually means. For so many, anarchism is understood as a theory of negativity. Anti-oppression and all of its synonyms and derivatives are abundant in anarchist discourses. Heckert responds to the relative void of pro- in anarchist theories with the suggestion that the inverse of anarchist critiques represent a series of positive commitments. Flipping the critique of speaking for others yields a commitment to listening deeply to others as they speak for themselves; challenging neoliberal narratives of history and identity make space for a commitment to self- and community-determination; practices of resistance and mutual aid represent deep commitments to care. Heckert’s analysis expertly links the relationship between care of the self and community-care related practices and highlights the way they are mutually reinforcing. In this framing, care of the self is situated in a larger project of collective care, development, and emergence.

Verter, M. C. (2013). Undoing patriarchy, subverting politics: Anarchism as a practice of care. The anarchist turn.

Verter seeks to expand understandings of anarchism beyond one-dimensional positions that stand in opposition to states, the authority they claim, and the violent power they exert against people and the planet. In this chapter, Verter positions anarchist lines of thought as alternatives to the patriarchal, military model of violent competition that has animated western society for millenia. Verter turns to family life as an alternative social model and focuses on maternal nurturance as a model for care. Turning his sights on anarchism, Verter asserts that nurturance is at the core of anarchist philosophies. This is particularly evident in the salience of mutual aid in anarchist discourse. The practice of mutual aid emerges from understandings of human interdependence advanced by prominent figures like Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin was deeply critical of capitalism, seeing it as the mechanism by which states took shape around the whims of the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Kropotkin criticized states for the way they attempted to justify their existence (and presumably authority) through interference with emergent expressions of mutual aid and the establishment of state sanctioned charities and institutions of public welfare. Verter’s contribution to the radical care discourse points to the need to look beyond state institutions for robust demonstrations of radical care.

Radical care and pedagogy

Latif, A., & Jeppesen, S. (2007). Toward an anti-authoritarian anti-racist pedagogy. 2007) Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations/Collective Theorization, 288-300

In this co-authored exploration, Sandra Jeppesen and Ashar Latif argue for an anti-authoritarin and anti-racist pedagogy. Identifying herself as a white person, Jeppesen argues that exposure to anti-racist texts, particularly in the form of anarchist zines, is a fruitful pathway for white people to develop a capacity to see racism and experience feelings of-transracial-empathy, both of which are necessary in order to develop an anti-racist praxis. Latif grounds calls for anti-racist education in the claim that anti-racist pedagogy must also be anti-authoritarian. He questions whether anti-racism can be taught at all and insists that anti-authoritarian pedagogy positions everyone as a learner. Zines, as an unregulated, highly personalized form represent a departure for what is typically considered acceptable learning material in academic spaces and expand limiting conceptions of authorship, thus enabling new voices to exert influence in discursive space. Following from Mbembe’s analysis of the function of racism in necropolitical structures and Banerjee’s presentation of the embeddedness of racialized necrocapitalist structures in our global society, eradicating racism is a central component of any collective-care project and education an integral facet.

Thompson, B. (2017). Teaching with tenderness: Toward an embodied practice. University of Illinois Press.

In a precious and personal book, Becky Thompson advances an embodied pedagogy of tenderness drawing from her experiences as a university educator. For Thompson, tenderness describes “an embodied way of being that allows us to listen deeply to each other, to consider perspectives that we might have thought way outside our own world views, to practice a patience and attention that allows people to do their best work, to go beyond the given, the expected, the status quo. Tenderness makes room for emotion; offers a witness for experiences people have buried or left unspoken; welcomes silence, breath, and movement; and sees justice as key to our survival” (p. 1). In each chapter, she offers anecdotes from her work as a university professor that illustrate the range and depth of experiences that are made possible through a pedagogy of tenderness. 

Thompson offers this text as a guide, providing examples of rituals and activities she has brought into her own teaching practice as she deepens her tenderness work. Thompson grounds her vision in the recognition that there is so much pain living in our bodies related to the traumatic histories(and current realities) we are often expected to discuss with academic airs of neutrality in university classrooms. There is so much violence in history books. The pedagogy of tenderness she advocates for in this book is an attempt to acknowledge and respond to the fact that trauma and learning are equally embodied experiences. Developing a critical awareness of the violence woven through our social fabric is not without hazard or pain but is a necessary step towards joining collective projects of liberatory transformation. Thompson’s book provides actionable tools and points of reflection for educators who are interested in integrating a more tender, radically caring approach to their critical pedagogical goals.